The Republican Presidential Candidates: Where Do They Stand on the Environment?

Written by Teri Hatch

As we enter the fall of 2011, the race for the presidency is well underway, and those of us in states that hold the first presidential primaries are still receiving the brunt of the attention.  The Republican candidates have swarmed New Hampshire and have made clear what is truly important to them and what they are willing to fight for.  For environmentalists across the country, the taste left in our mouths after these stump speeches is a bitter one.

Many of the top-tier Republican presidential candidates have stated in so many words that they believe that anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is a hoax, engaging familiar rhetoric that there is still not scientific consensus regarding climate change.  This is simply not true.  Eight years ago, Science Magazine reported that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, created by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, had unambiguously stated its certainty that “the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities” (Oreskes).

The article goes on to recount that the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all issued statements confirming their agreement with the scientific consensus about the anthropogenic nature of climate change.  Since 2004, scientists across the board have outspokenly supported the consensus opinion, to the point that some sources now report a complete lack of dissention among scientific associations of national or international standing.  Of course, scientific history has taught us that the scientific consensus can be proven wrong with time; however, to assert that this consensus does not exist, as many of the Republican candidates have done, is purely disingenuous.

Creating or fueling popular doubt in climate change is nothing more than a campaign tactic.  Many Americans are looking for a reason to maintain the comfortable status quo, and the belief that any doubt still exists can be just such a reason.  Allowing us to believe that climate change consensus does not exist is analogous to telling us that we do not need to worry yet or begin to change behavior, because it might all be some made up concern.  This is therefore a dangerous strategy and ought to be exposed.

A look at recent statements made by the Republican presidential candidates reveals that most of them refuse to consider climate change to be an issue worth our time and money.  Last week Texas Governor Rick Perry said in a discussion with New Hampshire business stakeholders that he believes that “there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects” (“Perry on Climate Change”).  He continues that “we’re seeing weekly or even daily scientists who are coming forward, questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what’s causing the climate to change.”

Perry then employs one of the most-used denial techniques, reminding his audience that the Earth’s climate has warmed and cooled since the beginning of time.  This is of course correct, but inconsequential to the fact that human-driven climate change is happening at a much greater rate than ever before experienced.  The governor concludes by discussing what he foresees as the fiscal cost to our country and the world of dealing with climate change, stating that he “[does not want] America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven, and, from [his] perspective is more and more being put in question” (“Perry on Climate Change”).

Michele Bachmann, another of the race’s frontrunners, argued on the floor of the House of Representatives in 2009 that “carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of nature,” adding that “there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas… it is a harmless gas” (Graves).  Representative Bachmann, that is simply not true.  In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a statement saying that greenhouse gases – primarily carbon dioxide – “threaten the public health and welfare of the American people” (Associated Press).  Many scientific associations have since supported this assertion. Once again, Bachmann is playing to the public’s confusion and espousing “data” that is misleading at best. Bachmann has also followed the other candidates in attacking the EPA, promising that it will be closed if she is elected President (Broder).

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has also evoked the idea that global warming is a natural part of the Earth’s warming and cooling processes.  In a radio interview with Rush Limbaugh in June, Santorum said that he thinks global warming is “a beautifully concocted scheme” created by liberals who want to take advantage of this “natural process” in favor of more governmental regulation (“The Rick Santorum Interview”).  His only reference to scientific consensus – which, as we know, purports that humans have severely influenced the Earth’s warming – is to call it “the junk science behind the whole narrative.”

Herman Cain, while admittedly a dark horse for the candidacy, has also been outspoken regarding his disbelief in global warming.  In an interview with CBS News’s Brian Montopoli in June, Cain said, “I don’t believe global warming is real” (“Herman Cain Interview”).  He later added, “the science, the real science, doesn’t say that we have any major crisis or threat, when it comes to climate change.”  The environmental stances of Presidential hopefuls Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich may be harder to ascertain, as both have formerly shown pro-environmental initiative but have more recently backed away from outright agreement that global warming exists (Hymas).

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney may be slightly more of a friend to the environmental message.  He told a crowd in New Hampshire earlier this summer that he believes “that humans have contributed to” global warming (Graves).  He went on to add that “it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors,” a bold statement for a Republican candidate to make, and one that falls well outside the party’s mainstream message of late.  However, last month Romney was quoted as saying “I don’t think carbon is a pollutant in the sense of harming our bodies” (Weiner).  As the governor of Massachusetts, Romney originally supported a regional greenhouse gas reduction initiative but later withdrew support, citing economic reasons.

The Huffington Post (Graves) reports that former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman may be the most pro-environment candidate in the Republican field, and the liberal political magazine Mother Jones agrees.  As governor of Utah, Huntsman brought the state into the Western Climate Initiative and set a goal for the state to return to 2005 emissions levels by 2020 (Hymas).  Two years ago he also stated that he was “enormously frustrate[ed]” by his party’s lack of climate action (Hymas).  In fact, Huntsman received a lot of flack just last week for tweeting that he believes in evolution and climate change, and he followed up on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday night by saying “the minute that the Republican Party becomes… the anti-science party, we have a huge problem” (Weiner).  However, now that he is a serious presidential candidate, Huntsman seems to be backtracking.  He now reportedly opposes a regional cap-and-trade program that he once supported, reminding us all that rhetoric means little if these candidates do not having the conviction to follow through with environmental policies (Weiner).

The environment must be one of the central priorities for this decade, and the administration inaugurated in 2012 must be dedicated to championing that priority.  Before voting in the Republican primaries and eventual presidential election next year, please consider the environmental ramifications of your vote.  I implore everyone to do some research and decide whose platform – and policies – you can truly get behind.


Associated Press. “EPA: Greenhouse Gases Are Harmful – US News – Environment – Climate Change – Msnbc.com.” Msnbc.com – Breaking News, Science and Tech News, World News, US News, Local News- Msnbc.com. 07 Dec. 2009. Web. 23 Aug. 2011.  <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34311724/ns/us_news-environment/t/epa-greenhouse-gases-are-harmful-humans/>.

Broder, John M. “Bashing E.P.A. Is New Theme in G.O.P. Race.” New York Times. 17 Aug. 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2011.<http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/us/politics/18epa.html>.

Graves, Lucia. “Rick Perry: Climate Scientists ‘Manipulated Data’ (VIDEO).” The Huffington Post. 17 Aug. 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/17/rick-perry-climate-scientists-cooking-the-books_n_929876.html>.

“Herman Cain Interview: Full Transcript.” CBS News. CBS Broadcasting Inc., 9 June 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/06/09/politics/main20070306_page2.shtml+herman+cain+%2B+climate+change&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&source=www>.

Hymas, Lisa. “Is Jon Huntsman the Greenest GOP Presidential Hopeful? | Mother Jones.” Mother Jones | Smart, Fearless Journalism. 03 Feb. 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/02/jon-huntsman-greenest-gop-presidential-hopeful>.

Oreskes, Naomi. “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.” Science. AAAS.org, 3 Dec. 2004. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <http://www.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full>.

“Perry on Climate Change – Bedford, NH 081711.flv – YouTube.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. 17 Aug. 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dddy9PRoopQ>.

“The Rick Santorum Interview.” RushLimbaugh.com Home. 08 June 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_060811/content/01125113.guest.html>.

“Scientific Opinion on Climate Change.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change>.

Weiner, Rachel. “Huntsman, Romney Believe in Global Warming, but Not Action – The Fix – The Washington Post.” The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines – The Washington Post. 23 Aug. 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/huntsman-romney-believe-in-climate-change-but-dont-act/2011/08/22/gIQAhdpuYJ_blog.html>.

About the author

Teri Hatch

Teri graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Honors Program at the University of New Hampshire with a BA in Political Science, Spanish, and Adolescent and Youth Development. She is currently an M.S.Ed candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development. Teri passionately believes in the invaluable role that early education can play in building a more sustainable future, and she therefore plans to devote her career to environmental education and awareness.